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J Immunol. 2004 Feb 1;172(3):1735-43.

Human T cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I)-specific CD4+ T cells: immunodominance hierarchy and preferential infection with HTLV-I.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.


CD4(+) T cells predominate in early lesions in the CNS in the inflammatory disease human lymphotropic T cell virus type I (HTLV-I)-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP), but the pathogenesis of the disease remains unclear and the HTLV-I-specific CD4(+) T cell response has been little studied. We quantified the IFN-gamma-producing HTLV-I-specific CD4(+) T cells, in patients with HAM/TSP and in asymptomatic carriers with high proviral load, to test two hypotheses: that HAM/TSP patients and asymptomatic HTLV-I carriers with a similar proviral load differ in the immunodominance hierarchy or the total frequency of specific CD4(+) T cells, and that HTLV-I-specific CD4(+) T cells are preferentially infected with HTLV-I. The strongest CD4(+) T cell response in both HAM/TSP patients and asymptomatic carriers was specific to Env. This contrasts with the immunodominance of Tax in the HTLV-I-specific CD8(+) T cell response. The median frequency of HTLV-I-specific IFN-gamma(+) CD4(+) T cells was 25-fold greater in patients with HAM/TSP (p = 0.0023, Mann-Whitney) than in asymptomatic HTLV-I carriers with a similar proviral load. Furthermore, the frequency of CD4(+) T cells infected with HTLV-I (expressing Tax protein) was significantly greater (p = 0.0152, Mann-Whitney) among HTLV-I-specific cells than CMV-specific cells. These data were confirmed by quantitative PCR for HTLV-I DNA. We conclude that the high frequency of specific CD4(+) T cells was associated with the disease HAM/TSP, and did not simply reflect the higher proviral load that is usually found in HAM/TSP patients. Finally, we conclude that HTLV-I-specific CD4(+) T cells are preferentially infected with HTLV-I.

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